Tag Archives: Grand Theft Auto IV

The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, Part 2

By Douglass C. Perry

When we look back 20 years from now, the first decade of the 21st century will look obvious to us, like a paint-by-numbers drawing for kids. It’s almost incalculable how many little triggers have shaped our current place in the games race. But there more than a handful of events, dozens of key games, and entire years that pushed this one-time cottage industry into the full-blown billion dollar industry it is now. While this isn’t the definitive historical account of single thing that happened between the years 2000 and 2009, this Decade in Review is an insider’s look at the decade filled with significant events. This is part 2 of the feature, The Decade in Review. Check here for part 1.

January 11, 2005: The Best Thing About GameCube

Making up for its poor third-party relations on the N64, Nintendo signed a multi-title, multi-year deal with Capcom, securing the Resident Evil franchise for the GameCube. While all of the previous games (RE1-RE3) were updated and released on GameCube to no real fanfare (outside of insanely excited Nintendo fans), Capcom rekindled the sagging survival-horror genre with the remarkable and visionary Resident Evil 4. The action-packed game blended scare tactics with high-level action scenes, quick-time events, and a new story that, while still cheesy in many respects, breathed life into the series.

March 22, 2005: A God Appears

On the heels of Capcom’s Resident Evil revitalization, David Jaffe and Sony’s Santa Monica Studios burst onto the scene with little pre-hype fanfare (due to the ambitious and prickly Jaffe team), but immediately stole the spotlight, stunning gamers with a Greek myth-based action game that maximized every aspect of the PS2 in its final years of life. Introducing Kratos, the vengeance-filled semi God, Sony mixed platforming, quick time events, and a high-impact combat system like nothing else before it. God of War becomes the one of the definitive action games of all time.

March 24, 2005: Sony launches PSP

Seeing that Nintendo’s game Boy has yet to see a substantial rival, Sony engineers the beautiful, sleek, and expensive PSP, the ultimate cool games/music/movie gadget.

November 4, 2005: Microsoft Defines Next Gen Gaming

Jumping the gun by shipping a year earlier than Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft stole the hardware spotlight by defining the next-generation with high-definition graphics, connected multiplayer functions, and a virtual, online marketplace. Introducing achievements, a multi-folder interface, an online marketplace, and improving on its already established online gaming service model, Microsoft stole Sony’s thunder and ended its uncontested two-generation rule. Full retail games like Call of Duty 2 and downloadable games like Galaxy Wars paved the way for Microsoft’s insurrection. The American console maker would then pick off Sony’s premiere third-party exclusive titles one by one (Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, Air Combat, Grand Theft Auto, even Metal Gear Solid). However, consumers exposed Microsoft’s hardware issues (the “Red Ring of Death”), which, along with a media battle between HD-DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray, have tainted opinions about the Xbox 360.

November 8, 2005: Guitar Hero Changes Everything

After quirky-cool endeavors Frequency and Amplitude made gamers feel cool on PS2, Harmonix teamed with Konami to sell millions of copies of Karaoke Revolution, the world’s first sing-a-long videogame. But its best and biggest partnership with Red Octane would revolutionize the game industry. Bravely confronting the statistically proven industry notion that expensive peripherals didn’t sell in high numbers, Red Octane gave the industry’s old idea the finger with Guitar Hero. Merging Harmonix’s innovative music gameplay with Red Octane’s functional, sturdy plastic guitar, the duo would blow past Konami’s musical endeavors, and then blow past everyone else. The rest of the story — Guitar Hero 5, Lego Rock Band, DJ Hero, and The Beatles Rock Band–nearly explains itself.

2005: Epic Floods Next Gen Middleware

Quietly in 2005 and loudly in 2006, Epic Games established itself as the defacto software engine for the new generation of consoles with its Unreal Engine. In the previous generation, a handful of developers created middleware for consoles: Id Software (with Id Tech), and Criterion (with RenderWare) to name a few, but Epic marketed and sold the Unreal Engine heavier, harder, and more convincingly than any other studio. And every time Epic showed game journalists Gears of War, the company’s new in-house game for Xbox 360, a dozen more developers would sign up.

2006: The Music Wars Begin

In May 2006, Activision acquired Guitar Hero publisher, Red Octane for $99.9 million. Then in September 2006, MTV Networks acquired Harmonix, the creative software studio behind Guitar Hero, for $175 million. In November 2007, Harmonix, under publisher MTV Networks and distributor Electronic Arts, released Rock Band, the direct competitor to Guitar Hero, complete with plastic guitar, microphone, and drum kit. Activision and MTV/EA would fiercely compete to out-do one another with new games, features, and exclusive bands, such as with Rock Band The Beatles, in the not-so-distant future.

Fall 2006: PS3 and Nintendo Wii Launch

One year after Microsoft’s Xbox 360 launch, Sony’s newly launched PlayStation 3 had the looks of a lost system. For a Blu-ray player, the PS3 was an economically priced system. For a console, its high price tag was reminiscent of the 3DO–way too expensive. Sony’s gamble on winning a media/storage war started well before mass consumers were even aware they needed a Blu-ray player–and before the world had decided which it wanted more, HD-DVD or Blu-ray. The result? Sony’s powerful new PS3 would start slow and remain in third place behind Microsoft and Nintendo in the console race.

While the PS3 launched November 11, the oft-laughed at, low-end Nintendo Wii launched November 19 with the free Wii Sports bundle. To everyone’s surprise (except Nintendo), the Wii captured the imaginations of consumers worldwide. The Wii, with the equivalent of Xbox 1 hardware and maximum 480p output, would go on to topple Xbox 360 sales, steal the console marketplace crown, and recode the next generation with its non-stop sales to the casual market, females, families, and weight-conscious gamers. If Microsoft defined the next generation with HD graphics and connectedness, Nintendo’s Wii rewrote it with its wireless, interactive Wiimote and its simple, accessible games, broadening the game market in a way Microsoft and Sony could only wish for.

June 29, 2007: Apple Launches the iPhone

Following its string of successes with the iPod, Apple released the unprecedented touch-sensitive interface and app-filled smart phone, the iPhone. While the device sold millions and remained the coolest gadget in the world for a good year, it wasn’t until Jul 12, 2008 when Apple launched its online app store that videogame developers were introduced to the full potential of a publisher-free videogame marketplace. With the app store in place, hundreds more developers started making apps in their garages. Just like old times.

July 11-13, 2007: Good-bye E3, Hello…Business Summit?

Booth babes: Did they make or break E3? (Image courtesy of CNET)

After escalating costs, the expansion of t-shirt-throwing barkers, endless parades of booth babes, stage shows, and a general circus mentality growing each year at E3, a majority of game publishers led by EA, agreed to end E3 as we knew it. In its place appeared a multi-venue, splintered, no-frills “event” known as The E3 Media and Business Summit. To put it mildly, the majority of attendees voiced their opinion that the new E3 was a poor substitution for the old one.

September 12, 2007: The Wii Takes Over

Despite launching one year after the Xbox 360, owning a kooky name, and delivering hardware that wasn’t as powerful as the PS3 or the Xbox 360, The Wii took over the console market in sales. The Financial Times reported September 12, 2007 that the Nintendo Wii had surpassed the Xbox 360 and had become the console market leader, the first time Nintendo had done so since the Super NES. (Sales based on NPD Group, GfK and Enterbrain tracking numbers for North America, Europe, and Japan.) Nintendo fans go berserk (and have remained giddily proud ever since).

October 11, 2007: EA Purchases BioWare, Pandemic

EA takes another big gulp out of the development world. One wonders why Microsoft didn’t buy BioWare, after its long partnerships and Mass Effect. But it took a hungrier, more ambitious Redwood City publisher to take over the reigns of the biggest Western RPG maker in the world, one famous for its work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, not to mention earlier works with Interplay such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Oh yeah, and EA got Pandemic too.

Dec 3, 2007: Activision Merges with Vivendi

The Activision merger with Vivendi created “Activision Blizzard,” a publisher that would soon become the biggest independent game publisher in the world, nudging long-time king EA into second place. The deal would be legally completed on July 10, 2008.

Fall 2007: Gamers Rejoice Part 2

In a collective burst of creative output, videogame developers harnessed the new console hardware with dozens of original titles and exceptional sequels on every system. Gamers scored in every genre and on every system. Titles such as BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Crysis, Halo 3, Skate, Forza Motorsport 2, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Pac-Man Championship Edition, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Assassin’s Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, God of War 2, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Rock Band, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Mass Effect, and The Orange Box, just to name a few, stole gamers’ hearts and emptied their wallets.

February 2008: EA’s $2 Billion Move to Acquire Take-Two

In an opportunistic bid just prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, Electronic Arts proposes an unsolicited bid to buy Take-Two Interactive for $2 billion dollars, or $25 a share. After an initial refusal, EA upped the bid to $26 per share, but Take-Two rejects the offer again. The press went hog wild with the story because of all the opportunisties to speculate on how EA would handle Rockstar, which games would get killed, etc. Analysts practically begged Take-Two to accept the offer, but Take-Two’s “take” on the offer was simple: “We’re worth more.” The biggest news? EA would have surpassed Activision Blizzard as the biggest independent softwre developer in the world with the acquisition. Somewhere, Activision’s Bobby Kotick is giggling madly in a room filled with plastic guitars, skateboards, posters of Spider-Man, and World War II guns, with money signs burning brightly in his eyes.

March 2008: The Indie Movement Arrives (Again)

While indie gamers have been around since Nolan Bushnell’s Pong started it all, a perfect storm of marketplace scenarios came to light in 2007 and 2008, creating a perfect environment for indie games to flourish. The world finally noticed in a big way at the Game Developers’ Conference in 2008. Jonathan Blow’s Braid, 2D Boy’s The World of Goo, and a dozen other quirky, creative, and low-budget titles created more than just a lot of media buzz, they showed the world new and different ways of thinking about and playing games.

The Games of 2008

While we can exalt in the monumental barrage of games that flowed through game stores in 2007, 2008 featured distinct breakthroughs. Bethesda’s award-winning first-person RPG Fallout 3 captured the essence of the beloved Fallout RPG series and brought its epic sense of story and size to the IP. Rockstar stunned the world with its updated, realistic vision of New York with an online, multiplayer Grand Theft Auto IV, garnering perfect scores and generating record-breaking sales. And Will Wright’s quirky god-game Spore hit the streets, generating buzz and good scores, but sales that did not match Wright’s previous hit, The Sims. With other breakthrough games including LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, Dead Space, and Prince of Persia, game publishers warded off the beginning of the biggest recession since the Great Depression.

February 12, 2009: Midway Goes Bankrupt

Confronting a $240 million debt, Mortal Kombat publisher files Chapter 11. Meanwhile, the last Midway-made Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat vs. DC, ships 2 million units. The last of the Old School arcade publishers, Midway’s closure was cause for a moment of profound silence, followed by, “Get over here!”

March 27, 2009: Square Enix Secures Acquisition of Eidos

Ever since I’ve been in the business of writing about videogames, Eidos has been on the table for purchase. After succumbing to too many Tomb Raider failures (from TR4-TR:Angel of Darkness), Eidos never really climbed back up to its previous heights of success in development or on Wall Street. During that time, nearly every publisher in the world has engaged in talks to purchase the English publisher. But no one in their right mind thought Japanese giant Square Enix would be the one. Anyone for a Final Tomb Raider Fantasy?

March 24, 2009: Could OnLive Change Everything?

OnLive CEO Steve Perlman and COO Mike McGarvey introduced the cloud-based computing online service, OnLive. The service is designed to eliminate the need to continually upgrade PCs or to buy new consoles. EA, Epic Games, Take-Two, Ubisoft, THQ and several others show initial support, but direct issues such as eliminating lag and cost structure posed problems, while indirect worries such as the next generation of consoles led by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft also weigh in.

June 1, 2009: Microsoft, Sony Reveal Motion Controllers

At E3 2009 (which had returned to the LA Convention Center), Microsoft unveiled the potential next step in controller-less gaming, Project Natal. Combining the use of an RGB camera, depth sensor, microphone, and proprietary software, Microsoft discussed the importance of eliminating the barrier between gamers from games (a la Nintendo’s Wii). At Sony’s press conference, Dr. Richard Marks introduced Sony’s own proprietary engineering prototype which combined the abilities of the EyeToy and a motion sensor. Neither project would ship in 2009.

June 24, 2009 Bethesda Acquires Id Software

After quietly announcing it had transformed from a developer into a publisher, ZeniMax Media Inc., the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, acquired industry pioneer Id Software. Id’s departure from the conservative creative culture at Activision and acceptance at Bethesda’s well-funded, new studio-friendly system was a surprise and a shift whose repercussions have yet to be determined.

November 2009: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Smashes Records

Infinity Ward’s first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 took in $550 million during its first five days, beating Grand Theft Auto IV’s video game record, while setting a single-day record with 2.2 million unique Xbox Live users playing the game on November 10. Modern Warfare 2’s remarkably fast-paced single-player campaign is joined by a new Spec-Ops mode, and a highly improved, highly desired multiplayer game. Christmas will never be the same again.


Surely that’s not everything–not every single thing–that happened. What about…? If I forgot, missed, or ignored an event worth posting, write and let me know! I’ll see if I can post it in the story.  Missed part 1 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, part 1? Check it out now.


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Surveys only tell half the story

Frank N. Magid’s recent survey on gamers’ awareness of downloadable content is just another sign of a half-formed survey that tells only one side of the story. Not a surprise, since most focus tests use narrow techniques to answer specific questions. But the story on IGN and Edge explain it’s asking the wrong people playing the wrong systems. Most of the gamers surveyed were playing PS2 and Wii games. In the vernacular, “well, duh.”

DLC games have been booming since Microsoft introduced the console’s Xbox Live marketplace. Entire studios such as Chair have based their total focus on DLC, resulting in games such as the smart Undertow and the retro Shadow Complex. EA put Battlefield 1943 entirely on DLC, trimming out a single-player campaign and focusing entirely on multiplayer.

Analysts point to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV DLC as examples of how DLC doesn’t work, at least from a pure financial standpoint–Both The Damned and the Lost and The Ballad of Gay Tony didn’t make nearly as much as investors or analysts had hoped they would–but these were Rockstar’s first big attempts at substantial DLC, and while not homers, they certainly got to second base.

I swear, I’m going to conduct my own surveys, each one asking questions like, “Do you think Halo is awesome?” and I’ll make sure to ask only PlayStation 3 users. I’ll ask Nintendo fans “do they love that the Wii is in first place in the console race for the first time since the Super NES?” And then ask Bill Gates, “Have you ever played WOW or LittleBigPLanet?” just for fun. One last question will be aimed at young moms who just bought the Wii to workout; it will be, “How hardcore is Gear of War on a scale of 1 to 17?” Sounds scientific enough for me.

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Assassin’s Creed 2 Review

In nearly every respect, Assassin’s Creed was a success story. An industry darling from its debut, the new IP earned a groundswell of hype and praise and attracted the likes of Steven Spielberg, gathered talk of movie options, won industry awards, and more. After its release, the game raked in remarkable, record-breaking sales numbers for a new IP. There was only one thing that publicly troubled Ubisoft: Reviews ranged from high nines to low sevens and sixes. Critics either loved or hated it.

Beneath its gorgeous exterior and sweeping vistas, Assassin’s Creed didn’t deliver the high-octane experience everyone, including Ubisoft, hoped it would be. Two years later, the French publisher’s vast, sweeping sequel answers its critics in every way. Where the first game was rigid, repetitive, and uncompromising in design and gameplay, the sequel is open, diverse, and full of options. The first game’s title, Assassin’s Creed, messaged “stealth,” but in reality it failed most stealth tests. The sequel, however, delivers innovative and exciting stealth components. The list of improvements goes on. The combat is deeper and more robust, the interactions with civilians are more interesting, and the exploration options are in many ways more manageable than before. To cut myself short, Assassin’s Creed II (AC2) actually over-delivers in the same way that Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV did, improving in every way over the original and creates a distinct, forceful, and full game that truly delivers on the original’s promise.

The Story So Far

With a complicated storyline full of twists and turns, time travel, and a mixture of religious and science fiction themes, Assassin’s Creed II’s narrative is a handful. You play modern day bartender Desmond Miles, an apparently normal guy who happens to have been reared by a family of assassins, and whose DNA contains secrets of his family’s past. Captured by Abstergo Industries, Miles is forced into a lab to undergo sessions in which a software tool called the Animus mines his DNA for memories. The first game traced Miles back to the role of Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad, in 1191. AC2 sends Miles back to Renaissance Italy, 1476, and puts him in the role of young Ezio Auditore de Firenze. Yes, that is his real name. And yes, the game is full of Italian names just like that.

Like the first game, the second one takes place in the present and the past. Thankfully, you’ll experience a majority of it in the past, while a sprinkling of events in the future explain your predicament, adding new twists to the dual narrative. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll remain a little vague on the story details. The original game took itself a little too seriously. Instead of the characters’ intensity gripping players’ interest, the modern day scenes with Lucy and doctor felt like interruptions and resulted in annoyance rather than intrigue. In AC2, players quickly discover that Miles’ new science/medical team is quirkier, funnier, even a little nastier, but even when nasty, they’re always more comical. A little light comedy might seem like a minor addition, but considering how heavy the subject matter is, the comical asides and more colorful characters add much needed balance to the dialogue and narrative flow.

Within the first few minutes of the game, you dive deep into Miles’ DNA history and you become Ezio, the second oldest child in the prominent Auditore family. Ezio’s father is a prominent banker and primary supporter of the ruling class Medici family of Florence. The Medicis, it turns out, are facing political challenges from another prominent family and, after a series of shocking events, these challenges turn into a confrontation that forces Ezio’s hand. He takes his family into hiding and then takes on the role of an assassin, seeking sweeping vengeance for those involved in his family’s tragedy.

In truth, AC2’s story feels like a forerunner to Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, with warring families killing each other in the dark and sophisticated factions strategizing to one-up another for power and prominence. It’s all quite dramatic and serious in nature, though just like the modern day characters in AC2, Ubisoft has injected the Italian narrative with light humor and some GTA-style one-liners for good measure.

The story is vast, involves a lot of characters, both fictional and real, and Ubisoft does an excellent job of blending their known history into the fiction. Each time you meet a new character or see a new piece of historic architecture, you can read about their roles in history. You can easily skip the optional text. But Ubisoft’s inclusion of historical better explains why this period in Italy was important in history and gives an underlying depth to the game. AC2 actually makes a good case for a bit of historic education while gaming.

Bigger in Every Way

The first Assassin’s Creed was not a small game. You could walk, run, jump across building tops, and ride horse back in ancient locations such as Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. AC2 is not only bigger in literal surface-level geography, it’s also taller and digs deeper underground. In AC2, Ezio will travel on foot, on horseback, in carriages, and in a flying machine across a vast region of Italian spots including various portions both inside and outside of Florence and Venice, Rome, the mountains, and various outlying countryside locations as well. The game’s size is impressive on its own, but more importantly, Ubisoft has made good use of the new space.

Just like the first, Ezio will uncover regions in each city by climbing to Eagle’s nests, but these buildings are more like 40 stories high instead of 20 stories high. The cities themselves are vast labyrinths of asymmetric streets, alleyways, and marketplaces, making for fun/challenging escape routes, with erudite re-creations of Italy’s famous religious structures peppering every region. Additionally, Ubisoft has introduced assassin’s tombs hidden deep underground. These tombs are physical puzzles in the vein of Prince of Persia/Tomb Raider, and while optional, they add mode depth and variation to the central game. They’re also good for gathering more information and money.

Assassin’s Creed is as much about historical conspiracy betrayal as any good drama or noir movie. Folding in more layers to the game’s depth, Ubisoft has introduced collectible glyphs. These hidden glyphs are located in hard-to-reach locations, and each one can only be opened after solving a trio of puzzles, each of which incorporates classic art (more education!). Once solved, the riddles reveal a small video clip. The object is to collect them all and piece them together to help you solve a bigger puzzle. The bigger puzzle? Yes, these glyphs appear to be from the future, and are a message sent by a previous Animus subject who was overexposed to the Animus and got lost in it. These are his means of communicating what he has found.

Adding even more depth to the game, Ezio is re-introduced to long lost family members, including one rowdy mercenary uncle who grants him his villa. Like Grand Theft Auto Vice City’s real estate mechanic, you’re able to invest and improve the villa, which in turn produces revenue. You don’t have to invest in the villa to beat the game, but the upside is tangible. You’re able to own a place of your own, generate extra cash, and visit your family once in a while.

Although I haven’t measured them side-by-side, the enormous geographical landscape of AC2 is reminiscent, once again, of Rockstar’s landmark action-adventure series. Translation: it’s really, really, really big. The result of such enormity is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you will experience a minimum of 25-30 hours of gameplay–that’s without collecting everything–providing little doubt you will get your money’s worth. On the other hand, despite the addition of a horse carriage function designed to quickly transport you between most major cities, getting around is a slow, arduous process.

The upshot of all this space and additional depth is that AC2 isn’t just bigger for the sake of being bigger. Everything works into the main story and is incorporated into the game design in a fundamental way. This is important, and with the exception of one huge fetch-quest near the end (which is one of the few down-sides to the game), you’ll feel like every big new city you visit has a meaning and purpose of its own.

System Shocker

The original Assassin’s Creed had some interesting ideas in it that didn’t necessarily work out. For instance, why did it have a Halo-style health system? Why did it have these neat eaves-dropping missions, but lack basic mission variety? Why did it seem like a stealth game but play like an action game? And why were you always displaying poor public conduct?

AC2 discards a number of systems from the first and replaces them with better ones in the second. In the original game, Altaïr regenerated his health automatically, just like in Halo. In AC2, a full monetary system requires Ezio to not only buy health, but buy clothes, weapons, weapon upgrades, and armor. Of course, you earn money too. And this is where the monetary system gets interesting. You can steal money from local citizens by simply brushing up against them; not much, like 2-4 lire per person. But if you brush up against 100 people, all of a sudden you’re in the money. Citizens take about two seconds to realize they’ve been robbed, and you have to do is keep moving on down the road. As I mentioned earlier, upgrading your villa earns you money, but it requires you to constantly revisit it, which is slow, slow, slow. Tumbling down into tombs earns serious cash, as does completing primary, secondary, or tertiary missions. But no matter what, you will need to earn money to keep up your health, and even to repair your armor. This could sound like a red flag to some, but because you can buy five viles of health potion at a time, and doctors are plentiful in each city, a little planning usually goes a long way.

The AI has improved for the better. In Assassin’s Creed 1, if you were found out, you basically had to head for the hills. The original game’s AI was binary. As is the sequel’s theme, everything in AC2 is loosened and broadened. If you attract unwanted attention, you can still jump to rooftops or find hay bales or find wells to hide in. Or you can be pro-active, pulling down posters with your mug on them, or silencing witnesses through a bribe or with a stiletto. It’s your choice, and it’s now fun to be a stealthy bastard.

You can also use the crowds in a far more intuitive and useful way than before. Unlike the unforgiving priest crowds in the first, Ezio can blend into ANY crowd of two or more people, indicated by a gray circle of computer data icons on the ground. This simple evolution of the original game’s crowd mechanic makes the blending work 200% better. You can now sift through the crowds like ghost. Conversely, you can hide among prostitutes or hire them to distract enemies. Or you can bulk up against an oncoming squadron of enemies by hiring thieves or mercenaries to fight by your side. I often found myself just hiring thieves and just killing as many guards as possible.

Think about this for a moment. When was the last time you were rewarded for beating up a philanderer? In AC2, the explosion of mission types makes sure you won’t feel the dread of repetition again. You’ll beat up disloyal husbands, escort important citizens across town, enter into races across town, explore distinct parts of the city, explore tombs, collect special items, rob important people, get to hard-to-reach spots under a timer, and so on. There are countless primary missions to push the story forward, but there are an equal amount of side missions providing money and information too.

The New Killing Instinct

The combat in Assassin’s Creed was decent at best, and like many other aspects of the first game, it was repetitive and underwhelming. AC2 brings serious chops to the fighting table. First, with the money you’ll earn, you can upgrade to more powerful swords, spears, poles, and axes. Or you can just pick up the weapons dead enemies leave behind. Second, your hands are powerful tools. You can throw solo jabs at enemies or pummel them with impressive combos. Later in the game you’ll earn knives, so you can throw knives from a distance at enemies, and much later in the game you’ll earn the ability to use a primitive handgun, which isn’t as fun as it sounds.

Like the first game, you’ll re-learn how to deflect enemy attacks and counter. You’ll also be able to strafe, jump back, and disarm. The disarm move is especially cool. As the game progresses, you’ll face different classes of enemies. You’ll start facing basic thugs with swords, arrow-shooting guardsmen, then spear and hammer wielding enemies; and later on, you’ll face axe- and long-pole wielding brutes wearing armor. You can eventually wear these last types down, but the best way to confront them is to retract any weapon you’re holding, strip down to your bare hands, and disarm them. Once you strip them of their axes and long-poles, you’ll see some of the best death animations the game has to offer. Now, instead of being an annoyance, the combat is easily one of the best parts of the game!

But Ezio is limited in what he can carry. He can wield one sword, one dagger, one gun, and at a certain point in the game, he’ll upgrade to double wrist blades. Any enemy weapons he picks up are dropped when he switches to his personal weapons, or when he climbs or swims (yes, you thankfully can swim this time).

Still, if you thought a single-jump stealth kill was wildly exciting in AC1, brace yourself. Easily one of the coolest, most exciting new moves in the game is the double wrist blade kills. I yelled several times at the top of my lungs to an empty room when I performed these stealth kills. Making them especially fun is the newly added stealth kill moves. You can pull enemies down while hanging from a balcony, stealth kill them while hiding in a well or in hay, or jump down from a balcony to assassinate them. Doubling the stealthy death is indescribably satisfying. While in Venice, you swim up to the shore, a boat, or a gondola, and silently drop kill enemies too.


Assassin’s Creed 2 delivers a game that’s bigger, better, and deeper than the first. And it’s actually fun as a fully functional stealth-action game. It not only answers criticisms aimed at the first, it fixes almost every problem, and adds more variety, combat depth, exploration, and personality to the mix. Nearly everything has a purpose for being in the game, and everything ties back into the main theme. In amongst the great expanse of gameplay, a few minor issues stuck out: collecting 100 feathers is a ridiculous, arduous task; the required fetch quest near the game’s end is forced and annoying, and because of the game’s size, some gamers won’t ever return to the game’s early cities. Still, these are small complaints laid upon a game that fulfills the original’s promise.

Score: 9.5 (out of 10)


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GTA IV: Rockstar Takes DLC to Retail with Ballad of Gay Tony

This will surely prick the ears of gay activists.

This will surely prick the ears of gay activists.

Rockstar Games announced today it will publish DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV, dubbed The Ballad of Gay Tony, and a full-standalone retail disc named Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, this fall for Xbox 360.

Following The first exclusive DLC for Xbox 360, The Lost And the Damned, Rockstar will release this fall the second exclusive chapter which stars Luis Lopez, a part-time thug and full-time assistant to nightclub impresario Tony Prince (Gay Tony). In the world of gay theater and tension-filled scenarios which will test Luis’s loyalties, players will experience the new chapter–“an overdose of guns, glitz, and grime”, according to Rockstar. The Ballad of Gay Tony will hit XBLA exclusively this fall, will cost $19.99 (1600 MS points), and requires players to own GTA IV.

Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, the retail disc,  gives gamers who have a silver membership or who lack online capabilities the chance to buy both DLC episodes in one shot. As an added bonus, both games don’t require GTAIV to play. Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City contains The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned, will cost $39.99, and ships this fall.

Seems pretty basic to me.  Like most folks who have Xbox 360, you already have a Gold Membership and play online like a looney Bandicoot screaming for mom’s milk while blasting goons in Halo 3. So, yeah, you’re going to buy The Ballad of Gay Tony and like it, even though it says the word gay in it. Just clear room on your hard drive!

I admit I haven’t even touched The Lost and the Damned even though I have downloaded it. It’s just one more game in the stack (or digital stack) that I want to play but don’t have time to! I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t actually like The Lost and the Damned. Everyone pretty much just oozed all over it.

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EA’s Illegal Brass Knuckles


It hurts enough to get punched in the face. But get punched in the face with brass knuckles and you’re in serious trouble. I guess that’s why owning brass knuckles is an issue in the United States and in many countries across the world. It makes a Electronic Arts’ recent promotion all the more interesting.  EA recently has sent brass knuckles to game journalists as part of a promotion with the recent copy of The Godfather 2 (MSRP: $59.99, Xbox, PS3, PC).

In the US, state law determines the legality of brass knuckles. Apparently they’re not illegal to distribute as they are regularly sold at flea markets and online. Or, given to you, by you know, EA. Brass knuckles, however, are illegal in the  in the states of Arkansas, New Jersey, Delaware, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Illinois, Connecticut, California, and Florida.

So, if you’re a games writer or editor who has been sent Godfather 2 andthose lovely brass knuckles, you have to wonder, did EA just give you the kiss of death, or just a potentially big fat legal issue?

Interestingly enough, when Rockstar was promoting Grand Theft Auto Vice City, it considered sending brass knuckles, but instead sent a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, said Terry Donovan, for COO of Rockstar. Rockstar didn’t want to send brass knuckles because they are illegal to own, and didn’t want to get involved in any legal issues. Is EA trying to hard to get attention with this one?

The  Godfather 2, which has ranged in scores online from GamePro’s 100 to the Official Xbox Magazine’s 75, ships Tuesday, April 7. The promotion consists of a press release, a humidor with cigars, and brass knuckles.

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Filed under Video Games